Even the strongest of heroes need help sometimes, and a local veteran has reached out her hand to make that help available for vets in need.
It began in 2015 when Kym Sanchez purchased the house that would evolve into her dream of helping veterans and their families. After over two years of renovations, maintenance and assistance from the community, her dream has become reality and Friday (July 7), the Military Family Respite Center opened in Taos.
“I just thought, ‘I want to do something,’” said Sanchez, whose husband died in combat in Iraq. “I would be sobbing and praying and I’d say, ‘Just give me some rest from this.’ It never came, and then it hit me one day, that maybe it never came because I was supposed to do it for somebody else.”
Sanchez’s facility will act as a safe house for veterans, military families and Gold Star families who need to stay, talk or just want to occupy the space for a few days. With the help of a supportive community, a fully stacked pantry and rooms await those who wish to use the renovated home for some well-deserved rest. The home will be free to those who need it through the Not Forgotten Outreach program, a Taos-based nonprofit that works to assist veterans.
As a veteran herself, Sanchez knew she had to be strong after losing her husband and carry on to help those around her who were also suffering from the wounds of war. The respite center will assist families and individuals in reintegrating into society and will work with addressing the mental health and other needs of soldiers and their families upon returning from combat.
“I want them to come here, stay and be surrounded by people that care for them, that understand what they ere going through and have gone through similar things,” said Sanchez, who founded Not Forgotten Outreach. “I don’t want people to feel alone.”
While the venture took great amounts of work, Sanchez received help in building her dream from many venues, including AmeriCorps, which assisted in construction, decoration and overall housekeeping in the project. The service group worked alongside Sanchez and other volunteers to complete the project and assisted in getting the respite center ready to take in families.
“We did seven-day workweeks and worked 12-hour days and it’s a huge honor to have done all of this for the veterans,” said AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps member Benson Severance. “We left our mark, and I’m definitely looking to come back and see what it’s like five years from now.”
During the opening celebration of the center, guests, veterans and families came together for an afternoon of celebration and remembrance. The ceremony was honored by Brig. Gen. Mark Scraba, who spoke on the importance of military families, as well as the importance of community when building a center like the one Sanchez has created.
Taos Pueblo veteran Antonio Mondragon also spoke, touching on the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration of soldiers after wars. Mondragon mentioned his brother, a Vietnam veteran lost to alcoholism due to a lack of treatment and care for those who came back in the past with wounds of war.
“Thanks, Not Forgotten Outreach, for providing an ear, your attention and caring to help those going through what I’m talking about here today,” Mondragon said during his speech.
Sanchez said she hopes for an online application to be ready by September to help families get into the respite center with ease. Construction will continue with an elevator for the two-story dwelling soon. Families will be allowed to stay up to five days for free at the center.
An emotional Sanchez said she could not have done anything without the help of the community around her and that she was incredibly grateful for the support.